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Blair begins Gulf trip in Kuwait

Blair
Blair will personally thank Kuwait's leaders for their support during the war.

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KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait -- Prime Minister Tony Blair has arrived in Kuwait for the start of a two-day visit to the Gulf that will see him become the first Western leader to go to post-war Iraq.

Blair plans to meet British troops and thank the Kuwaiti government for its support in the war against Iraq.

"I want to see the British troops to thank them for their magnificent performance during the Gulf conflict," Blair told reporters on board his chartered aircraft.

The visit Wednesday will be Blair's first to Kuwait since the U.S.-led campaign to topple former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Kuwait was a launching pad for the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq, and Blair plans to convey London's gratitude personally to its leaders, Downing Street said.

Blair was due to meet Kuwait's Emir, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, and Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, who serves as both deputy prime minister and foreign minister, in a two-day visit.

Blair said his trip to Kuwait was important to him personally.

"It's most important to thank the troops on behalf of the country because this was, more than any other conflict in recent times, this was a very, very tough conflict," Press Association quoted him as saying.

"And people risked their lives, in some cases lost their lives, and so it's right that I go there and I see the troops there and thank them personally and thank them personally out in the theater."

On Thursday, the prime minister was scheduled to travel to the southern Iraqi city of Basra, where British troops have been concentrated.

"Down in the south, in Basra and some of the towns there, life is returning to normal," Blair told reporters.

"It's important to realize that electricity and water supplies have never been there in the fullest extent. In Baghdad there has been a serious security problem but let's not forget, this country does have its freedom."

The visits to Kuwait and Iraq begin a hectic foreign schedule for Blair, who travels from there to Russia for St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebrations and then Evian, France, at the weekend for the annual G-8 summit.


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